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Yeats’s Legacies

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Warwick Gould

Essays

Shakespeare in Purgatory: ‘A Scene of Tragic Intensity’1

Stanley Van Der Ziel

Texte intégral

  • 1 Note—Further information may have been gathered since this article was prepared for publication. If (...)

I

  • 2 Michael McAteer, Yeats and European Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 176–79.
  • 3 See for example an early study, Katharine J. Worth, ‘Yeats and the French Drama’, Modern Drama 8.4 (...)

1When W. B. Yeats came to write Purgatory, the last of his plays to be staged during his lifetime, at the Abbey Theatre Festival on 10 August 1938, he drew on a lifetime of seeing and thinking about the work of other dramatists, both Irish and European. Traces of many earlier works can be found in the play. Michael McAteer has argued, for example, that Purgatory was indebted in several respects to the Expressionist theatre of Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata.2 To scholars of Irish drama, meanwhile, it must be evident that the mis-en-scene of Purgatory—outlined in the economical first stage direction: ‘A ruined house and a bare tree in the background’ (VPl 1041)—not only foreshadows that of Waiting for Godot, as has often been pointed out,3 but that it is in turn indebted to the dramaturgical example of The Well of the Saints, Synge’s farcical treatment of the themes of blindness and redemption:

  • 4 J. M. Synge, Collected Works, 4 vols, gen. ed. Robin Skelton (London: Oxford University Press, 1962 (...)

Roadside with big stones, etc. on the right; low loose wall at back with gap near centre; at left, ruined doorway of church with bushes beside it. MARTIN DOUL and MARY DOUL grope in on left and pass over to stones on right, where they sit.
MARY DOUL: What place are we now, Martin Doul?
MARTIN DOUL: Passing the gap.
4

2The Well’s opening stage direction certainly provides an obvious model both for the scant vegetation, and for the ‘symbolical’ (VPl 1041) toppling masonry of the ruined house in Purgatory. In addition to that, the opening dialogue of Synge’s wandering tramps foreshadows the geographical inquiries of the Boy in the opening lines of Yeats’s play, who wants to know whether his old man has ‘come this path before’ (VPl 1041).

  • 5 John Pilling, Samuel Beckett (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976), 157.

3Yeats’s dramatic imagination is frequently haunted by the presence of Synge, the younger dramatist whose death in 1909 had left Yeats badly shaken because with Synge, he felt, had died the immediate promise of a truly great national Irish stage. The poetic language of Yeats’s plays, whether they are written in prose or in verse, owes much to the idiomatic Irish stage language created by Synge, that heightened version of the language he had heard spoken by the natives in Wicklow and Aran (JMSCW iv, 53). The verse of Purgatory is no exception. With its echoes of specific lines from The Well of the Saints and The Playboy of the Western World (to which this essay shall return later), and with what John Pilling remarks is an inversion of the patricide plot of The Playboy (although the source could just as easily be Oedipus Rex), the presence of Synge can be felt to run as deeply here as it ever had before.5

  • 6 James Joyce, Ulysses, ed. by Hans Walter Gabler (New York: Garland, 1984), 9.510–11.
  • 7 See Graham Allen, Intertextuality (London: Routledge, 2000), 1 and passim.

4There is, however, another playwright whose presence can be felt throughout Purgatory, and that is William Shakespeare—the ‘chap’ who could sometimes, as Buck Mulligan joked in the Scylla and Charybdis episode of Ulysses, ‘write [] like Synge’.6 The ghost of Shakespeare haunts Purgatory throughout. This essay will show some of the ways in which Purgatory draws on the example of Shakespeare by identifying particular Shakespearean references, resonances and echoes in the language of the play—some of which are, as it turns out, entangled in Yeats’s imagination with the language of Synge. Starting from these textual echoes, we shall see how Shakespeare did not just present Yeats with a poetic corpus that could be plundered for his own devices, but how Purgatory also develops a number of appropriate Shakespearean themes and ideas in a truly ‘intertextual’ exercise—one in which echoes and allusions are not merely a form of literary ornament but bring with them some of the meaning of the original text as part of a veritable ‘network of textual relations’.7

  • 8 Yeats to Dorothy Wellesley, 15 August 1938, CL InteLex 7290. It is perhaps indicative that a journa (...)

5It is evident from the text and the staging of Purgatory that Yeats found many ways of deepening or reflecting his convictions about the nature of private suffering and damnation, and of social and familial disintegration and discord, in his reading of Shakespeare’s plays. Plays like King Lear, Hamlet, Coriolanus and others could be recruited by the mature Yeats to act as mirrors reflecting not only his private ‘conviction about this world and the next’,8 but also some of the stark truths about the social and political realities of post-Independence Ireland in which he lived. The immediate contemporary relevance of Purgatory has often been understood in the context of On the Boiler, the Cuala Press pamphlet in which the play was first published and in which, as Yeats wrote in a 1938 letter to Maud Gonne McBride, ‘For the first time I am saying what I beleive [sic] about Irish & European politics’ (CL InteLex 7273). And while this is certainly a useful way of approaching the play, I would like to propose here how the contemporary social and political concerns that the play shares with the pamphlet are given further depth by the Shakespearean intertexts that are evoked throughout. In fact, Yeats explicitly invites a Shakespearean framework for the work and thought of this late phase of his career in another letter from the same year. Writing to Olivia Shakespear shortly after he finished Purgatory and the essays in On the Boiler, he diagnosed with self-conscious irony how the ‘short play in verse & [the] queer pessimistic pamphlet’ he had just completed would be received: ‘It looks to me as if I may spend my remaining life… in a fierce Timon like propaganda’ (CL InteLex 7239).

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  • 9 Quoted in YL 169, item no. 1261. The National Library of Ireland’s ‘Guide for Readers’ to the Yeats (...)

6Yeats’s relationship with Shakespeare’s plays was both intimate and long-standing even by the time he began publishing his first verses. In Reveries over Childhood and Youth he recalls how he had been struck by the vividness of the language of the ‘canopy’ exchange from Act 4, scene 5 of Coriolanus which his father had often read to him as a young adolescent in his studio in York Street (Au 65). It is clear from references throughout his letters and his non-fictional prose, as well as from the occasional allusions to Shakespeare’s tragic heroes in some of his poems, that Yeats had thought deeply about Shakespeare from early on in his career. The range of his critical and creative responses to the greatest English dramatic poet were many and varied during the span of his writing life. We can only speculate as to which aspects of his book on William Shakespeare the poet John Masefield may have been alluding when he wrote, in a letter (now apparently lost) dated 27 July 1911 which accompanied the presentation copy he sent to Yeats, that ‘if there is anything good in it, it was probably suggested by you…’.9

  • 10 E&I 96–110. That early essay remains influential—so much so, in fact, that much recent scholarship (...)
  • 11 On Yeats in the context of early twentieth-century cultural-nationalist ‘appropriations’ of Shakesp (...)

7It is certain that Yeats was interested in aspects of stage-craft and stage-design, as well as—in the early part of his career, at least—in the analogies that might be drawn between the conflicts of personality at the heart of plays like Richard II and Hamlet and the contrast between prosaic, practical English versus poetic, romantic Irish ways of seeing and thinking. All of these are subjects in his 1901 essay ‘At Stratford-on-Avon’.10 But Yeats’s attitude to Shakespeare was constantly shifting, in directions, after the 1900s, increasingly further removed from his and his contemporaries’ turn-of-the century interest in ‘appropriating’ Shakespeare as a tool in the project of national revival.11 By the final decade of his life, writing in the face of his own mortality and amid the gathering storm clouds of political turmoil in Ireland and Europe, his chief interest was in the ability of Shakespearean tragedy to resist pathos and to instead distil ‘joy’ from tragic scenarios. This concern of the elderly Yeats in the 1930s with ‘tragic joy’ is most famously articulated in the 1936 poem ‘Lapis Lazuli’, but it was reprised by Yeats contemporaneously with his writing of Purgatory in the prose section of On the Boiler, where he wrote that ‘No tragedy is legitimate unless it leads some great character to his final joy’ (Ex 448).

  • 12 Variations on that thought had been part of Yeats’s arsenal from early on in his career. It was pro (...)
  • 13 It is well known that Yeats was an admirer of Ulysses when it was first published. See for example (...)
  • 14 Synge borrowed readily from Shakespeare, and married the latter’s poetic-dramatic language to the l (...)

8One interest that remained constant throughout Yeats’s lifetime was that with Shakespeare’s language—including ways in which that language might be recovered by contemporary dramatic poets. The conventions of Shakespearean verse as it was spoken on the stage were important in Yeats’s conception of the Irish Literary Revival. In ‘An Introduction for My Plays’ (written a year before Purgatory in 1937), Yeats not only proudly reminds his readers ‘that Ireland had preserved longer than England the rhythmical utterance of the Shakespearean stage’;12 he also suggests that there should be a nonrealistic style of dramatic speaking for the Irish stage that would do justice to the language of Synge as the equal of Shakespeare by ‘permit[ting] that stilling and slowing which turns the imagination in upon itself’. For does not a ‘tragic sentence’ from The Well of the Saints like ‘a starved ass braying in the yard’, he asked, ‘require convention as much as a blank-verse line?’ (E & I 528–29; cf. JMSCW iii, 113). This was not a new thought. Yeats had read Buck Mulligan’s irreverent joke about Shakespeare as an anachronistic imitator of Synge in Ulysses fifteen years earlier.13 Synge himself, too, in his Preface to The Playboy of the Western World, had made explicit the analogy between the rich language and folk-imagination of the Irish peasantry at the turn of the twentieth century and that encountered by Elizabethan dramatists at home and in the streets and public places (JMSCW iv, 53). Synge’s dramatic language accordingly drew simultaneously on the imagery-rich linguistic vein of the Irish folk-imagination and on his reading of the great Irish, English and European playwrights of the past. It appears that this was a lesson which Yeats found more difficult to put into practice in his dramatic output than in his lyric poems—for as r. f. Foster has remarked, it took a long time before Yeats’s dramatic language ‘finally achieved the mysterious simplicity of his finest poems’ in Purgatory (Life 2 620). There, more than in any of his earlier plays, the language and rhythms, while they remain unmistakably Irish in their diction and idiom, move beyond emulating the peasant idioms of Synge and towards a rediscovery of the original Shakespearean vitality that had made Synge’s language so rich in the first place.14

  • 15 t. s. Eliot, Poetry and Drama (London: Faber & Faber, 1951), 19–20.
  • 16 See also Rupin W. Desai, Yeats’s Shakespeare (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1971), 212–1 (...)

9Not, of course, that the verse of Purgatory is an imitation of Shakespeare’s blank verse. Yeats definitively foreswore that metrical form in the prose section of On the Boiler when he wrote that ‘I gave certain years to writing plays in Shakespearean blank verse about Irish kings for whom nobody cared a farthing’ (Ex 418). Instead, as T. S. Eliot noted, in Purgatory, at the end of his career as dramatist, Yeats perfected his own form of dramatic verse in short lines of flexible metre and thus, like Shakespeare before him, created ‘A really dramatic verse [that] can be employed… to say the most matter-of-fact things’.15 In a way, then, Purgatory embodies Yeats’s ambivalence towards Shakespeare’s legacy. The structure of Purgatory may be that of a perfectly formed Classical, rather than a Shakespearean tragedy—after all, Yeats, as fellow-playwright, regarded the latter’s dramatic ‘luxuriance’ (Ex 80) and ‘heterogeneous[ness]’ (CVA 204) with varying degrees of suspicion throughout his career, a view that culminated in his deathbed verdict to Dorothy Wellesley that ‘Shakespeare is only a mass of magnificent fragments’ (LDW 194) compared to the unity of Greek drama.16 The language of Purgatory, on the other hand, is heavily informed by Yeats’s lifelong reading, watching and perhaps above all listening to Shakespeare’s plays.

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  • 17 John McGahern, Introduction to the 1999 edition of John Butler Yeats: Letters to His Son w. b. Yeat (...)

10The novelist John McGahern remarked that it had always fascinated him ‘that every line of Purgatory is filled with the drama of opposites’.17 While that statement is clearly somewhat of an exaggeration, there is yet some truth to it. The reliance on the capacity of pairs of words charged with equal but inverse meanings to hold a line of verse together like the constituent parts of an atom is a stylistic habit also much favoured by Shakespeare, much of whose most memorable dramatic verse in the tragedies exists in precisely such a tension of opposites. McGahern was probably thinking specifically of the Boy’s short monologue that opens the play, in which the ‘drama of opposites’ is most pronounced:

Half-door, hall door,
Hither and thither day and night,
Hill or hollow, shouldering this pack,
Hearing you talk. (
VPl 1041)

11In structure and content, these lines may well recall not only Yeats’s own lines from stanza three of ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ (‘Though I am old with wandering | Through hollow lands and hilly lands…’ [VP 150]), also but the Fairy’s speech to Puck near the beginning of A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

  • 18 All references to Shakespeare’s plays are to The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works, gen. eds Richard (...)

Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough briar,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere… (II.i.2–6)
18

  • 19 For a useful account of Shakespeare’s use of ‘equivocation’ in the language of Macbeth, see Frank K (...)

12The jaunty rhythm and the faint presence of that dreamily comic intertext certainly do not suggest the tragic scene that is about to unfold. But perhaps as a way of opening the play, the ‘strong driving force’ (CL InteLex 6490) of Yeats’s trochees is ultimately more comparable to the witches’ exchange in the opening scene of Macbeth, which relies on equivocatory pairs of opposites using the same metre.19 What is more, the presence of that same play may be felt in the Boy’s response to the Old Man’s story about his mother’s marriage to a socially and, as the play suggests, racially inferior man. The Boy’s attitude is more ambivalent than that of his father. For while the Old Man concludes with confident snobbery that ‘Her mother never spoke to her again, | And she did right’ (VPl 1043), the Boy is open to the social, moral and ethical shades of nuance to which a young girl’s actions that took place fifty years ago may be open. Since he is not burdened by the class-prejudice that warps the Old Man’s moral senses, the Boy can equivocate like the dramatis personae of Macbeth, and echo that play’s refrain of ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair’ (I.i.11) in formulating the question that bespeaks his own moral levity: ‘What’s right and wrong? | My grand-dad got the girl and the money’ (VPl 1043).

13The opening couplet of the Old Man’s second speech contains another such ‘drama of opposites’. What is more, the semantic opposition that exists between its respective lines is reinforced by a contrast in the Shakespearean dramatic genres from which they originate—a generic shift that mirrors the descent of Anglo-Ireland from Georgian idyll into the nineteenth-and twentieth-century tragedies of impoverishment, political disenfranchisement and miscegenation which are among Purgatory’s overt subjects. The Old Man’s initial observation that ‘The moonlight falls upon the path’ (VPl 1041) intimates a misleading feeling of pastoral security by echoing the opening line of Lorenzo’s description of the conditions that accompany Portia’s return to Belmont at the end of one of the comedies (‘How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!’ [The Merchant of Venice V.i.54]). But that mood is quickly changed in the next line, where the ‘symbolical’ ‘shadow of a cloud upon the house’ of which he speaks with grave authority (VPl 1041) invokes Richard, Duke of Gloucester’s symbolical premonition of his tragic fall in the famous opening soliloquy of Richard III, with its reference to the metaphorical ‘clouds that lour’ d upon our House’, foreshadowing its demise (I.i.3).

  • 20 Desai, for example, reads the invocations of both the ‘ruined house’ and the ‘bare tree’ in Purgato (...)

14From his very first words onward, the Old Man is concerned with the importance of the house, the ruined shell of which dominates the backdrop of the stage. For Yeats, in Purgatory and elsewhere, houses can never be separated from the families who live in them. They are always synonymous—in part, at least—with the dynasties who built them and with the wider cultural traditions of which those families are part. The tragic disintegration of a noble house, with its many ecological, architectural, domestic, familial, dynastic, social and political connotations, is a ubiquitous Shakespearean theme that may have found its way into the imagery of Purgatory via any number of Shakespeare’s plays.20 One Shakespearean tragedy in particular, though, perhaps suggests itself more than any other. For while the cloud that casts a ‘symbolical’ shadow over the Old Man’s ancestral home may have drifted into Purgatory straight out of Richard III, ruination and storm clouds are also of course a constant presence in the language and imagery of King Lear. And it is to King Lear, the sublime tragedy about the ‘symbolical’ ruination of the noble houses of Lear and Gloucester, that Purgatory returns more frequently than to any other of Shakespeare’s plays—even if one plot element which would seem most obviously Lear-like may be more directly indebted to other Shakespearean antecedents. Because if the Old Man’s description of his son as ‘A bastard that a pedlar got | Upon a tinker’s daughter in a ditch’ (VPl 1044) contains a literary allusion, then it is not to the ‘good sport’ that went into the making of the bastard Edmund in King Lear (I.i.22), but rather to the base beds in which some of his other, less illustrious Shakespearean forebears had been conceived. Yeats’s iambic description of bastardry among the beggar-classes in Purgatory may be reminiscent of such lines as the aspersions cast on the parentage of Apemantus by Timon of Athens: ‘thy father (that poor rag) |…, who in spite put stuff | To some she-beggar and compounded thee | Poor rogue hereditary’ (IV.iii.274–77), or perhaps more faintly of Autolycus’ less than flattering description of himself as a libidinous wandering tradesman in The Winter’s Tale: ‘he… married a tinker’s wife within a mile where my land and living lies; and, having flown over many knavish professions, he settled only in rogue’(IV.iii.95–98). That late romance, in particular, seems like a highly appropriate intertext. Like Purgatory, The Winter’s Tale is centrally concerned with the quality of one’s birth, and with the remorse that must follow any rash and violent attempt at rectifying family honour or restoring a legitimate bloodline.

  • 21 a. s. Knowland, w. b. Yeats: Dramatist of Vision (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1983), 89. See also (...)

15Verbal and other cues to King Lear were present in Purgatory from its first inception. More than one critic has remarked, for example, on the ‘Lear-like snatches of song’here and elsewhere in Yeats.21 More specifically allusive to the language and imagery of King Lear is a passage in the first verse draft in which Yeats inserted, and then struck out, a Lear-like reference to the (no doubt ‘symbolical’) deteriorating eyesight of the Old Man, who prefaces the confession that he murdered his father in the burning house with a conspiratorial question:

  • 22 Manuscript of the First Verse Draft (MS 8772#2), in Sandra F. Siegel ed., Purgatory: Manuscript Mat (...)

Is there nobody in ear shot
My eyes begin to age
Your eyes are young
22

16Blindness is a theme Yeats also found in Oedipus Rex (a play that preoccupied him all his life, and which is referenced on a number of occasions in the prose argument of On the Boiler), but the reference to ageing rather than blind eyes more properly recalls Shakespeare’s tragedy. Specifically, the crossed-out line echoes the ailing king’s address to Kent in Act 5: ‘I am old now | And these same crosses spoil me. … Who are you? | Mine eyes are not o’ the best’(King Lear V.iii.275–77).

  • 23 Johnston’s King Lear was first performed at the Abbey as early as November 1928, but since Yeats wa (...)

17The presence of King Lear can be discerned not only in the language of Purgatory, but also in Yeats’s conception of the ‘symbolical’ bare setting for the play. The minimal set-design envisaged by Yeats for this symbolic drama may not only be reminiscent of The Well of the Saints, or even of the traditional stylized backdrop of Japanese Noh theatre, but equally of Lear on the heath. The mirroring of Purgatory’s moral and psychological desolation in its ‘symbolical[ly]’ barren and hostile setting is in itself reminiscent of King Lear, but Yeats may have had one production in particular in mind. When he conceived of the ‘symbolical’ setting of Purgatory, Yeats may have been thinking specifically of a memorable production that he had witnessed at the Abbey Theatre on 29 October 1930, when Denis Johnston directed a production of King Lear23 which, as one modern scholar summarises it,

  • 24 Patrick Lonergan, ‘“Old fools are babes again”: Shakespeare at the Abbey Theatre’, programme note f (...)

was informed by Johnston’s awareness of new European theatre practises… the sets were not presented in a realistic style; instead each scene featured one strong emblem that conveyed the setting representat-ionally. Hence, … an exterior scene [was represented] by a desolate landscape occupied only by a tree with three branches.24

  • 25 ‘rather bald’ was George Yeats’s description, in a letter to the director, of the type of staging Y (...)
  • 26 See the various letters from 1938 between w. b. Yeats, George Yeats and Hugh Hunt. See also Life 2 (...)

18In his journal entry for 30 October 1930, Yeats was outspoken about his ‘unfavourable impression’ and ‘dislike’ for that production, which he considered a failure in terms of both audibility and visibility (Mem 275–77). Yet it is not unlikely that the image of Dorothy Travers Smith’s set designs for the Abbey’s King Lear (see Plates 38–39) had become part of Yeats’s visual imagination, and that it was retrieved from his store house of ‘permanent or impermanent images’ (VP 602) when he came to write Purgatory at the end of the decade. Yeats, after all, was an advocate of ‘stylized scenery’, and what he objected to in the stage-design of Johnston’s Lear were the aspects of lighting that were too complicated and ‘arty’ (Mem 275–77). Elements of symbolic simplicity such as the single tree used to represent a desolate physical and psychological landscape are not mentioned in Yeats’s journal, presumably because they were beyond critique. King Lear was a play that invariably brought out the director in Yeats, and the same production of King Lear provoked a letter to Lady Gregory in which he outlined his vision of a more satisfactory way of staging Shakespeare’s tragedy. Yeats’s ideal Lear would be stripped of all unnecessary adornments: it would be played ‘in full light throughout—leaving the words to suggest the storm’ (29 October 1930, CL InteLex 5398). His desire on that occasion in 1930 for seeing a minimal Lear both looks back to the less cumbersome stage machinery of early-Jacobean open-air performances, and forward to Yeats’s later efforts to realise on the Abbey stage the ‘rather bald’ effect he intended for Purgatory.25 In this respect, Yeats’s responses in letters and journals to Johnston’s Lear read like a dress-rehearsal for the Yeatses’ arguments with Hugh Hunt, who directed the premiere of Purgatory at the Abbey in August 1938.26

Plate 37. Abbey Theatre Programme for King Lear, 27 October 1930 and following nights. Yeats saw the first half on 27th and the second on 29th: see Mem 275. ‘E. W. Tocher’ is a professional pseudonym used by Denis Johnston, the Director. Image courtesy James Hardiman Library, NUI, Galway.

Plates 38-39. Set desings for Kings Lear, by Dorothy Travers Smith
Images courtessy James Hardiman Library, NUI, Gatway.

  • 27 See Donald T. Torchiana’s discussion of the allegorical timeline of Purgatory in his w. b. Yeats an (...)
  • 28 John Unterecker, ‘The Shaping Force in Yeats’s Plays’, Modern Drama 7.3 (Autumn 1964), 345–56 (355) (...)
  • 29 Jacqueline Genet, ‘Yeats’s Purgatory: A Re-Assessment’, Irish University Review 21.2 (Autumn/Winter (...)
  • 30 Hamlet, ed. by t. j. b. Spencer (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996), V.ii.88, and p. 345n. Both the ‘goo (...)

19To read the setting of Purgatory as a response to King Lear may also make sense of another detail that is less easily explained than the large symbols of bare tree and ruined house. In his well-known but now largely superseded reading of the play as a historical allegory of the history of modern Ireland, Donald T. Torchiana views both tree and house as rather blatant symbols of the fall of Parnell and the ruin of Anglo-Irish civilization.27 The Boy’s description of the floorless, windowless and roofless shell of a once-great house is followed by his noticing of ‘a bit of an egg-shell thrown | Out of a jackdaw’s nest’ (VPl 1042). In addition to being simply an extension of the image of the burned-out shell of a house (as John Unterecker suggests), or an ‘image of life as an empty shell’ (as Ellmann sums up the general tenor of Purgatory and other late works),28 the Boy’s discovery of an egg-shell on the ground may also be read as an intertextual reminder of the Fool’s egg-shell speech in Act 1, scene 4 of King Lear, in which the foolish king is berated for breaking his crown in half and throwing both halves away as if they were two empty eggshells, leaving his witless head as empty as the two empty ‘crowns’ that are left behind when the edible part within has been consumed (King Lear I.iv.148–56). The next two lines of the Boy’s speech deepen the connection with that classic image of witlessness from the English tragic stage. First he tells the Old Man that ‘Your wits are out again’, before expressing his exasperation at the Old Man’s seemingly crazy explanation of the workings of purgatory: ‘I have had enough! | Talk to the jackdaws, if talk you must’ (VPl 1042, 1043). Both of those lines may recall descriptions of diminished mental faculties in Shakespeare’s tragedies. Jacqueline Genet has read the Old Man’s admission later in the play that he may indeed be mad—‘my wits are out’ (VPl 1046), a line that echoes the Boy’s earlier accusation—as an allusion to Lear’s ‘My wits begin to turn’ (III.ii.67).29 The association between the jackdaw and the senseless speech of a madman, meanwhile, points to an idea that can be found in a number of Shakespeare’s plays. The connection that exists in the Boy’s mind between madness and ‘talk[ing] to the jackdaws’ gestures towards Yeats’s knowledge of such Shakespearean dialogue as Hamlet’s insult of the yea-sayer Osrick—he calls him a ‘chough’, the older English name for a jackdaw, a bird known, as t. j. b. Spencer and others have noted, for being ‘able to make a chatter resembling human speech’30—or indeed the ‘canopy’ exchange in Coriolanus which the young Yeats had so enjoyed in his father’s rendition (Au 65). In that scene, the putdown that answers the Third Serving-man’s question whether the stranger, if he really lives with the birds in the sky, ‘dwell[s] with daws too’, also points to an established association between the jackdaw and foolishness: ‘No, I serve not thy master’, Coriolanus replies with quick wit (IV.v.46–47).

  • 31 See for example David Wheatley, ‘“Nothing will come of nothing”: Zero-sum Games in Shakespeare’s Ki (...)

20The purpose of the Fool’s egg-shell routine in King Lear is to remind the king of the nothingness that defines his new position in the world. The ‘nothing’ that is the subject of his egg-shell speech is also a recurring theme in Purgatory. Beckett’s later appropriation of King Lear’s obsession with ‘nothing’ in plays like Endgame and Waiting for Godot has been much remarked upon;31 but Yeats, too, taking his cue from Shakespeare’s Fool, had already worked riddles and jokes about ‘nothing’ into many of his earlier plays and poems. One of the latter, ‘A Prayer for My Son’, from The Tower (1928), inverts Lear’s stern paternal warning to Cordelia that ‘nothing will come of nothing’ (I.i.90) by celebrating the infant’s capacity to ‘fashion everything | From nothing every day’ (VP 436). Yeats’s Lear like preoccupation in the last phase of his career with the paradoxical idea of ‘nothing’ which is at once an absence and a presence is also evident from the text of an unpublished ‘little poem about nothing’ written roughly contemporaneously with Purgatory in the first half of 1938. The meaning of Yeats’s ‘little poem about nothing’ is more cryptic than any of the Fool’s riddles or Lear’s veiled threats on the same subject, but the rhetorical cue presented by those characters from King Lear seems an unmistakable presence behind these lines:

  • 32 MS dated ‘Oxford. May 8.1938’, quoted in Warwick Gould, ‘“What is the explanation of it all?”: Yeat (...)

What is the explanation of it all?
What does it look like to a learned man?
Nothings in nothings whirled, or when he will.
From nowhere unto nowhere nothings run.
32

  • 33 As in Hamlet III.ii.119. Deirdre Toomey, ‘“What is the explanation of it all?” Nothing and Somethin (...)

21As in King Lear, the precise nature of ‘nothing’ in Yeats’s ‘little poem’ is elusive. It can ‘whirl’ and ‘run’ like a something when required; yet it is also, as Deirdre Toomey writes, a ‘cosmic revelation of negation’, and even a bawdy pun on female genitalia (the ‘“nothing” from which “everything” came’) in the Elizabethan tradition.33 What the late Yeats of this quatrain shares with the author of King Lear is his capacity to sustain both the serious and the playful registers (not to mention to smutty one) at once, in a poem that is more an essay in nothingness than an attempt at providing a comprehensive answer to a sticky philosophical problem.

  • 34 Although the phraseology may be derived from a story by Tolstoy, the title Where There Is Nothing r (...)
  • 35 For an interesting reading of the dramatic importance of the joke about nothing at the end of The H (...)

22The word ‘nothing’ also appears prominently in a number of Yeats’s plays. Obviously, ‘nothing’ is an important idea in the early play entitled Where There Is Nothing (1902; later reworked as The Unicorn from the Stars), but the idiosyncratic theological argument of that play—in which the hero Paul Ruttledge concludes that ‘where there is nothing, there is God’ (VPl 1140)—is not relevant to this discussion.34 Nor does ‘nothing’ have the same connotations it does in Purgatory in the play that immediately preceded it, The Herne’s Egg. That play concludes with a low comic character distracting the audience’s attention from what may have been a serious tragic closing tableau with a bad joke that hinges on the repetition of the word ‘nothing’:35

Corney. I have heard that a donkey carries its young
Longer than any other beast,
Thirteen months it must carry it.
[
He laughs.
All that trouble and nothing to show for it,
Nothing but just another donkey. (
VPl 1040)

  • 36 This is how Yeats described his original vision for a one-act play that would become Purgatory in a (...)

23In these final lines of the play, Corney is devoid of the decorum befitting his place in a tragedy with which Lear’s Fool, for all his bawdy and nonsensical antics, is endowed. By contrast with the ribald conclusion of The Herne’s Egg, in the ‘scene of tragic intensity’ 36that is played out in Purgatory the word ‘nothing’ is, for all its nascent comic potential, charged with as great a depth of meaning and profundity of feeling as it is in King Lear.

24Aspects of one other play at least seem more germane to this essay’s discussion of the Shakespearean ‘nothing’ of Purgatory. The Wise Man in the 1914 verse version of The Hour-Glass, a play in which the word nothing is used more frequently than in any other of Yeats’s plays, is conceived as a kind of Horatio-figure whose philosophy of heaven and earth is limited to prosaic, literal, tangible things, and who believes that ‘There’ s nothing but what men can see when they are awake. Nothing, nothing’ (VPl 595; cf. Hamlet I.v.174–75). This makes the Wise Man foolish, just as Lear’s Fool is wise in his deeper philosophical understanding of the difficult concept of nothing. In contrast with The Hour-Glass’s Wise Man, the Fool Teigue in the same play wisely equates saying nothing and knowing everything (VPl 633).

  • 37 Desai, Yeats’s Shakespeare, 216.
  • 38 Samuel Beckett, Watt [1953], ed. by C. J. Ackerley (London: Faber & Faber, 2009), 64.

25In Purgatory, the motif of nothingness that is first obliquely introduced through the echo of Lear’s egg-shell speech is developed in the rest of the play. The word ‘nothing’ is used five times in Purgatory. It appears three times in the Old Man’s final speech alone, twice in the first line and once again five lines from the end, so that the majority of that final speech is framed between ‘nothing’ and ‘nothing’ (VPl 1048–49). The play’s first two uses are simple enough descriptions of the two characters’ respective attitudes towards the reality of ghostly haunting. The Boy’s sensible, literal-minded observation that ‘There’s nothing but an empty gap in the wall’(VPl 1045) aligns him with characters like Hamlet’s Horatio and the foolish Wise Man in The Hour-Glass. This attitude is contrasted with the Old Man’s assertion of the paradoxical state of ghostliness: ‘There’s nothing leaning in the window | But the impression upon my mother’s mind’ (VPl 1048). Rupin W. Desai may be right when he discerns in the latter exchange the presence of the conversation between Hamlet, who sees the Ghost in the chambers of the Queen, and Gertrude, who can see ‘nothing’ of the ghostly visitation and believes her son has gone mad (Hamlet III. iv. 131–41).37 But the pair of nothings that opens the Old Man’s final speech is perhaps even more strongly reminiscent of King Lear and its grapple with the many permutations of the meaning of ‘nothing’. In that scene from Hamlet, as in Cordelia’s opening gambit in King Lear, ‘nothing’ can be taken lightly, as part of little more than a word game played by a petulant child. In the remainder of King Lear, however, Shakespeare demonstrates both the complexity of the number zero and the desolation inherent in genuine nothingness. When the Old Man in Purgatory says about the ghost of his father in the window that ‘That beast there would know nothing, being nothing’ (VPl 1048), Yeats is echoing the verbal pattern of Lear’s put-down by the Fool, whose wit can only slightly diminish, but never completely eradicate his bleak message: ‘thou art an 0 without a figure; I am better than thou art now. I am a fool, thou art nothing’ (King Lear I.iv.183–85). In Purgatory as well as in King Lear, therefore, the function of ‘nothing’ hovers constantly somewhere between an absolute philosophical truth and a cheap pun. In both plays, as in Yeats’s ‘little poem about nothing’, the word ‘nothing’ does not so much denote an absence as a presence: Shakespeare’s Fool and Yeats’s Old Man alike know, as the tragical-comical mathematician in Samuel Beckett’s Watt puts it, that ‘the only way one can speak of nothing is to speak of it as though it were something’.38 Nothing is not nothing (so to speak), but a something capable of ‘leaning in the window’, a positive identity that the Old Man’s father or the foolish king can assume.

26The nothingness which the Old Man in Purgatory attributes to his groomsman-father is due to more than merely the prosaic fact that he is dead and therefore not really there; it is also his withering judgement of a social nonentity. The play’s prevailing sense of nothingness that initially takes hold of the spectator’s imagination via the echoes of King Lear also bleeds into Yeats’s feelings about the cultural scene in the early decades of the Irish Free State—the inward-looking, essentialist and culturally protectionist era often popularly known to students of Irish cultural history as De Valera’s Ireland. The fate of the house is the most obvious manifestation of this. On the most literal level, the vivid image of the burning of the country-house library containing

… old books and books made fine
By eighteenth-century French binding, books
Modern and ancient, books by the ton (
VPl 1044)

reflects the historical reality of such burnings, which were widespread in the Irish revolutionary period of the early twentieth century. But the burning of the library is also ‘symbolical’ of a wider and much more dangerous act of barbarism perpetrated once the philistine Catholic middle classes who had once snubbed Hugh Lane’s art collection got their grubby hands out of the tills of their shops and onto the levers of political power. The wilful destruction of the library that had formed a tangible link with the breadth of European culture is ‘symbolical’ of the isolationist, culturally protectionist attitudes of the new Ireland that sought to cut itself off from ‘corrupting’ external cultural influences through such measures as the introduction of a Censorship of Publications Act in 1929. The burning of the library symbolises the nothingness at the heart of a culture that expends much of its energy defining itself by the things it is not.

27With its reference to upwardly mobile stable-grooms like the Old Man’s father ‘being nothing’, then, Purgatory may be seen to enlist Hamlet and King Lear in its author’s critique of the cultural and intellectual desolation of the Free State—of the culture of censorship, official book burnings and State-sponsored ignorance that is treated explicitly in section II of the ‘Preliminaries’ to On the Boiler (Ex 410–12). But Purgatory is not the brutal and unmitigated attack on the savagery of the new Ireland, nor the sentimental vindication of or yearning for the cultural values of the Protestant Ascendancy, for which it can so easily be taken by Yeats’s nationalist detractors. Here, as so often, Yeats is a master of self-contradiction—or a great Shakespearean equivocator. His condemnation of the inward-turned philistinism of the shopkeepers and Gaelic Leaguers who determined Ireland’s cultural policies in the 1920s and 1930s in that one passage of Purgatory is tempered with the competing assertion of that same class’s right to self-determination in another exchange a few pages later:

Old Man. … You have been rummaging in the pack.

Boy. You never gave me my right share.
Old Man. And had I given it, young as you are,
You would have spent it upon drink.
Boy. What if I did? I had a right
To get it and spend it as I chose.
Old Man. Give me that bag and no more words.
Boy. I will not.
Old Man. I will break your fingers. (VPl 1047)

  • 39 The intergenerational quarrel about the management of funds plays out the postcolonial argument bet (...)

28As a thinly disguised allegory of the clash between the old Ireland and the new, this acrimonious exchange between father and son has specific, local resonances in post-1922 Ireland;39 but it also reflects more universal concerns about power and control that had always been a natural subject for drama. The urge of the young to govern their own destinies is also a major concern of Shakespeare, not only in many of the comedies, but also in King Lear. Thus when the Boy in Purgatory points out to the Old Man that ‘You killed my grand-dad, | Because you were young and he was old. | Now I am young and you are old’ (VPl 1047), his belief in the natural superiority of the young over the old replicates the sentiments of Regan’s speech to Lear on seizing control of his fate: ‘O, sir, you are old: | Nature in you stands on the very verge | Of her confine. You should be ruled and led | By some discretion that discerns your state | Better than you yourself’ (King Lear II.ii.338–42).

  • 40 Jan Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary [1964], trans. Boleslaw Taborski, rev. ed. (London: Routledg (...)
  • 41 Frank O’Connor, My Father’s Son (1968; London: Pan, 1971), 152.
  • 42 A fascist production at the Comédie Française in Paris in 1934 treated Coriolanus ‘as an all-out at (...)
  • 43 O’Connor, My Father’s Son, 152. On Yeats and Coriolanus at the Abbey, see also Lauren Arrington, w. (...)

29It seems, though, as if Yeats may have taken his immediate rhetorical cue from another of Shakespeare’s tragedies when he wrote this climactic exchange between father and son. With its constant threat of violence, the confrontation between the Old Man and the Boy recalls the argument between patrician and ‘mutinous citizens’ about the distribution of the means of sustenance in the opening scene of Coriolanus— a play described by Jan Kott as the first truly modern play about ‘the class struggle’.40 The impatient, antidemocratic impulse of the eponymous hero of that, Shakespeare’s most political tragedy must certainly have struck a chord with the politically attuned Irish Yeats in the years and decades immediately following Irish independence. Coriolanus was one of only three Shakespeare plays to be staged at the Abbey Theatre during Yeats’s lifetime, in January 1936, when it was directed by Hugh Hunt, who would be given the task of directing the premiere of Purgatory two-and-a-half years later. Yeats particularly chose Coriolanus for the Abbey in order to stir controversy, and perhaps even to incite another riot so that he might make a speech in defence of the play and its message as he had once done for The Playboy of the Western World and The Plough and the Stars.41 He was also doubtless trying to make the kind of point about contemporary politics to which that play so readily lends itself, as European productions from different ends of the political spectrum throughout the 1930s demonstrated.42 In his autobiography, Frank O’Connor records how Yeats insisted that the Abbey’s Coriolanus be played ‘in coloured shirts’, referencing the uniform of the local fascists—General O’Duffy’s ‘Blueshirts’ —as was the fashion for revivals of Coriolanus across Europe in that turbulent decade. Yeats did not get his way, though. He was outvoted by the Abbey board, so that when the play was eventually produced it was in Elizabethan dress and Roman togas, rather than in the ‘coloured shirts’ that would have given it the immediate topical flavour of contemporary politics.43

  • 44 On Yeats’s Burkean political thought, and its overlaps with the fascism with which he briefly flirt (...)

30Yeats’s stubborn attempt to realise an Irish-fascist Coriolanus, even if it never materialised on the boards at the Abbey Theatre, remains nevertheless of utmost significance as it points to the presence of that play in his political and dramatic consciousness in the years immediately leading up to the writing of Purgatory. That Yeats was both capable and inclined in the 1930s to view Irish politics through Shakespearean eyes (rather than exclusively through those of a follower of the political philosophy of Edmund Burke, or even, for a brief time, of European fascism44), and through the lens of Coriolanus in particular, is further suggested by his dismissal, in the prose section of On the Boiler, of government officials like the Lord Mayor of Dublin. Yeats scornfully observed how the current holder of that office ‘thinks… that his duty is to make himself popular among the common people’. Instead, Yeats approved of officials temperamentally more like Coriolanus, ‘who despised them with that old Shakespearean contempt and were worshipped after their death or even while they lived’ (Ex 409–10). The adjective ‘Shakespearean’ is telling. The summary of that second type of officialdom in On the Boiler is reminiscent of two scenes in Coriolanus. One is the exchange between two Officers in the Capitol about the ‘many great men that have flattered the people, who ne’er loved them’ (II.ii.7–8); the other is Coriolanus’ ominous prediction on going into exile later in the play that ‘I shall be lov’d when I am lack’d’ (IV.i.15).

  • 45 The line ‘I will break your fingers’ (VPl 1047) was a very late additions to the text. It does not (...)
  • 46 It is this ideological openness that had allowed French and German fascist productions as well as S (...)

31Yeats may have been unsuccessful in his attempt to insert a degree of topicality into the Abbey’s staging of Coriolanus in 1936, but the long shadow of that play can still be seen in Purgatory, where its idioms are rewritten for the setting of an Irish country road. In Purgatory’s recasting of the opening scene of Shakespeare’s final tragedy, the Boy takes the role of the ‘mutinous members’ (Coriolanus I.i.148) while the Old Man is cast as the benevolent, though patronising, Menenius Agrippa—a role in which it is not difficult to imagine the seventy-ear-old smiling public man, a former Senator of the Irish Free State, that Yeats had by the late 1930s become. One detail that may have been inserted (at the very last minute) for the purpose of signalling an intended parallel with the concerns of the opening scene of Coriolanus may be that which marks the conclusion of the argument between Old Man and Boy. It may not be a coincidence that the respective exchanges between the voices of establishment and rising force in both plays is brought to a close with a base threat or insult by the patrician which involves one or more of the digits. Menenius compares the First Citizen to the ‘great toe’ of the body politic of the Roman state (Coriolanus I.i.153–57); the Old Man simply threatens to break the Boy’s fingers if he does not hand over the money-bag.45 In addition, Yeats’s imagining in Purgatory of the debate between rash new statesmen versus seasoned administrators as a family row inverts Menenius’ paternal image of the plebeians who ‘slander | The helms o’th’ state, who care for you like fathers’ (Coriolanus I.i.75–76), since the father in Purgatory cares for his son much like a functionary in an overbearing state apparatus. In the end, though, despite all the reasonableness of their respective patricians’ arguments—and despite the ageing Yeats’s possible temperamental likeness to the wise, aristocratic but pompous Menenius trying desperately to reason with a populace whose outlook he cannot fully comprehend—both Coriolanus and Purgatory allow as much sympathy for the ‘mutinous citizens’ who may yet deserve a chance to assert their economic independence no matter their administrative inexperience or youthful folly.46 Great poets, after all, as Yeats had written nearly four decades earlier in his essay ‘At Stratford-on-Avon’, do not judge the world ‘with the eyes of a Municipal Councillor weighing the merits of a Town Clerk’ (E & I 105). Evidently, some of that Romantic attitude survived even amid the mature cynicism of Purgatory and On the Boiler.

IV

32The relationship between a text and its precursors is rarely pure and never simple. For scholars of literary influence, it is tempting to seek a single, authoritative intertext for each allusion in a text, but practice dictates that this is not always how the imagination of a great poet works. The most memorable lines of prose or verse can sometimes draw upon a number of antecedents at the same time, with varying levels of conscious intent on the part of the author. In the case of Purgatory, it is curious how some of the lines in which the underlying presence of Shakespeare can be most distinctly heard simultaneously contain equally distinct echoes of key moments in the plays of Synge.

33Multiple influences are at work simultaneously in Purgatory when the Old Man in his final speech refers to being no more than ‘a wretched foul old man’ (VPl 1049). In that line, Yeats may be paying homage to Synge by means of a recollection of Molly Byrne’s rebuke of Martin Doul’s proposition at the end of Act 2 of The Well of the Saints: ‘That’ s the way to treat the like of him is after standing there at my feet and asking me to go off with him, till I’d grow an old wretched road woman’ (JMSCW iii, 119 italics added). Such an intertext would serve to reinforce Purgatory’s links with the satirical comedies of Synge and the tradition of poetic peasant dramas of the early Abbey. More than that, an alignment here and later in the same speech (to which this essay will shortly turn its attention) with Synge’s various ironic takes on the idealised figure of the unspoilt peasant from the western seaboard would reinforce Yeats’s own critical stance toward the more narrow-minded manifestations of the nationalist pieties of the Revival era.

34As various critics have pointed out, however, the most obvious intertext in that line is again King Lear. When the Old Man asserts that

I am a wretched foul old man
And therefore harmless (
VPl 1049)

  • 47 F. A. C. Wilson, w. b. Yeats and Tradition (London: Gollancz, 1958), 159.
  • 48 Neither Wilson (W. B. Yeats, 159) nor Knowland (Dramatist of Vision, 236–37) actually cite Lear’s a (...)

35Yeats is aligning his protagonist with the ageing Lear, as F. A. C. Wilson argued many years ago, ‘[through] so unusual a device as the inflection of the verse… When Yeats echoes a phrase and rhythm of Shakespeare in this way, he does so with a definite intention, here to enhance the stature of his hero, and to make the audience see him in a grimmer and more terrible light’.47 Both the words—their sound-pattern as well as their emotional register—and the formal rhythm of the metre repeat Lear’s expression of guilt and remorse to Cordelia, the daughter he has wronged:48

I am a very foolish, fond old man,
Fourscore and upward… (IV.vii.60–61)

36In addition, the Old Man’s words—though not the ‘inflection of the verse’ or the ‘rhythm’ —are also reminiscent of Lear’s submission to the force of the hostile elements of nature on the heath during the storm earlier in the play:

Here I stand your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak and despised old man. (III. ii. 19–20)

  • 49 Ibid.
  • 50 John Masefield, William Shakespeare (London: Williams & Norgate, 1911), 163.

37Despite the imperfect match of the verse, this earlier speech from Act 3 is probably the more useful analogy (certainly the adjectives are a better lexical match for ‘wretched’, ‘foul’ and ‘harmless’). Even at this late stage, the Old Man does not show remorse for the misdeeds against his child, nor even so much as a trace of personal growth. As Richard Allen Cave points out, if the echo of Lear’s remorseful speech to Cordelia in Act 4 is indeed intended by Yeats, then this is problematic because it would suggest a psychological transformation in the Old Man analogous to that undergone by Lear at that late stage in the play. The existence of such a transformation in the protagonist of Yeats’s play is belied, however, by the fact that, in place of Lear’s expression of ‘genuine humility, the Old Man’ s [words] are suffused with self-pity and total self-delusion’.49 Like Maurya at the end of Synge’s Riders to the Sea, or the Lear of Act 3, Yeats’s Old Man can only submit to the superior forces of nature or the will of the universe. But he is not yet ready at this point, as Lear is by the time he is confronted with Cordelia in Act 4, to accept any culpability for his actions or to ask forgiveness from those he has wronged; nor is he ever likely to be. At the conclusion of Purgatory, the main character undergoes no Lear-like ‘enlargement of… vision’ of the kind described by Yeats in his definition of tragedy in ‘A General Introduction for My Work’ (E & I 522). Quite the opposite, in fact: the Old Man is intent on eradicating the ‘pollution’ to his family’s bloodline represented by others, but he stops short of taking his own life, hypocritically claiming that he is ‘harmless’ due to his advanced age. This wilful blindness throughout to his own part in his family’s disgrace is surely significant to Yeats’s tragic meaning in this play written for an individualistic generation. Because one of the themes of Purgatory is the tragic elusiveness of the crucial psychological insight that, as Yeats’s friend Masefield said of Hamlet in that book apparently so much indebted to Yeats’s conversation, ‘damnation comes from within, not from without’.50

38The ghost of King Lear can be felt throughout the Old Man’s final speech. His entreaty to a vague and cruel deity in the play’s final words that ‘Mankind can do no more. Appease | The misery of the living and the remorse of the dead’ (VPl 1049) does not repeat any specific line of the mad Lear or the blinded Gloucester. (In fact, if those final lines recall any original at all it may be the conclusion of Riders to the Sea: ‘They’ re all gone now, and there isn’t anything more the sea can do to me… and may [God] have mercy on my soul, Nora, and on the soul of everyone is left living in the world’[JMSCW iii, 23, 27], or even the cadence of the final sentence of Joyce’s ‘The Dead’.) But Yeats’s elastic iambs—and in that final line of the play they are very elastic—certainly do revive King Lear’s master-themes of pointless and arbitrary human cruelty and suffering, and hardwon compassion. The analogy with Lear’s suffering was explicitly signalled by a verbal allusion in an early draft of the Old Man’s final speech:

  • 51 Manuscript of the First Verse Draft (MS 8772# 2), in Siegel, Purgatory, 104–5.

and
Again ^ again & again on—on on, on, on,on
O God release my mother s soul
Theres nothing mankind can do appease
The misery of the living & the remorse of the dead
51

39The four ons that disrupt the rhythm of the verse line repeat, in reverse, Lear’s four nos on being reunited with Cordelia outside Edmund’s prison camp:

No, no, no, no. Come, let’s away to prison;
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales… (V. iii. 8–12)

40The reverse verbal echo of Lear’s departure to prison with Cordelia in this early manuscript draft may have been intended to highlight the theme of remorse and forgiveness, but also to suggest the continuation of the mother’s, and indeed the Old Man’s purgatory, where parent and child will be stuck rehearsing the ‘old tales’ of the past. Whatever its intention, Yeats apparently soon changed his mind, and from the next draft onward the echo disappeared from the text of Purgatory forever.

41It is when the Old Man marks his near-exit towards the end of the final monologue that the voices of Synge and Shakespeare merge seamlessly. Near the end of the play he announces a new beginning:

When I have stuck
This old jack-knife into a sod
And pulled it out all bright again,
And picked up all the money that he dropped,
I’ll to a distant place, and there
Tell my old jokes among new men. (
VPl 1049)

  • 52 It is perhaps surprising that critics of Irish drama have not picked up on this echo. It is not unl (...)

42Without recalling any passages in particular, bloody knives stuck in sods of earth would be equally at home in Synge’s macabre comedies and Shakespeare’s martial tragedies. It is the last two lines of this speech, however, that are of particular interest, as they echo pivotal speeches from two different plays simultaneously. The Old Man’s intention to go ‘to a distant place, and there | Tell my old jokes among new men’ appears in the first instance to be a repetition of Old Mahon’s parting speech at the conclusion of The Playboy of the Western World, when he takes his leave of the villagers by proclaiming his intention of becoming a wandering purveyor of comic tales: but my son and myself will be going our own way and we’ll have great times from this out telling stories of the villainy of Mayo and the fools is here. (JMSCW iv, 173)52 This link is not without its problems. The connection between the language of these two speeches may be clear, but any link between the dramatic contexts in which they appear must remain more ambivalent. Yeats’s Old Man does not strike us as a comic character. He has not told any jokes so far; far from it, he started the play with a lament for the ‘jokes and stories’ that had once been contained in the house that is now dead (VPl 1041). Yeats’s echo of the conclusion of The Playboy of the Western World, then, is an ironic one, as the reconciliation of the patricide with his supposedly dead father in Synge’s comedy is but a distant memory in the face of the Old Man’s ghoulish ritual killing of his son at the end of Purgatory. The restoration of the family unit at the end of The Playboy is twisted at the conclusion of Yeats’s play into a sense of nothingness. ‘Twice a murderer and all for nothing’ (VPl 1049), the Old Man reflects when he realises that his deed has not trammelled up the consequences of his mother’s transgression in the way he had hoped it would. While that thought may recall the comic question Christy asks his father after ‘killing’ him a second time—‘Are you coming to be killed a third time or what ails you now?’ (JMSCW iv, 171)—the Old Man’s realisation in Yeats’s play does not have the farcical intent of Synge’s joke. Instead, the hellishness of his realisation is closer to the most hopeless moments of Shakespearean tragedy than it is to Syngean farce. Echoing Macbeth’s fear after the murder of Duncan that ‘To be thus is nothing’ (Macbeth III. i. 47) because the horrible deed may yet fail to yield the desired result in the name of which it was carried out, the Old Man’s final epiphany of nothingness is brought about by the sound of hoofbeats in his head which, like the knocking at the gate in Macbeth, wake the protagonist to a belated realisation of the horrible futility of his actions.

43The Old Man’s resolution to go ‘to a distant place, and there | Tell my old jokes among new men’ is also reminiscent of a more clearly tragic antecedent in Shakespeare’s plays. Not only do his words recall the conclusion of The Playboy of the Western World; their indebtedness to the rhyming couplet that marks the Earl of Kent’s exit from the opening scene of King Lear is equally clear:

Thus Kent, O princes, bids you all adieu;
He’ll shape his old course in a country new. (I.i.187–88)

44The invocation of this second intertext is steeped in a different type of dramatic irony. The Old Man may imagine for himself a physical departure from the scene of his mother’s transgressions and his own crimes; but even before the return of the fateful hoofbeats seals his fate, the echo of Kent’s parting words already confirms that his attempted escape must be doomed to failure. Borrowing Kent’s words effectively immobilises the Old Man—prevents rather than enables his going hence. In Shakespeare’s play, Kent is characterised by his inability to leave the stage: even after he is exiled from the court for offering his frank advice, he soon returns in order to ‘serve where thou dost stand condemned’ (King Lear I. iv. 5). Instead of leaving on the foreign adventure he announces, Kent must remain to wander the heath and endure the repercussions of the king’s crimes against his child that have offended both the natural and the social order. And so the Old Man’s triumphant announcement of intended foreign travels near the end of Purgatory through an echo of Kent’s deceptive farewell is merely the ironic preamble to an endless repetition of the woes of the present, and the past. As the play’s final lines show, the Old Man, like his mother, is condemned to remain perpetually rooted to the place where their original transgressions took place.

V

  • 53 Peter Ure, Yeats the Playwright: A Commentary on Character and Design in the Major Plays (London: R (...)
  • 54 On the restoration of the moral order that is a generic imperative of Shakespearean tragedy, see fo (...)
  • 55 ‘A silly old man’ is the Boy’s indolent answer to his father’s question: ‘study that tree, | What i (...)

45In Yeats the Playwright, Peter Ure characterised Purgatory as a ‘Shakespearean tragedy in miniature’.53 Certainly, Yeats’s play addresses common concerns, and does so through a host of strategically placed echoes and allusions to Shakespeare’s tragedies in a way that suggests a desire to establish a kinship with Shakespeare’s tragic enterprise. In the end, though, Purgatory must be classed a failure if it is measured against the standards of Shakespearean tragedy. For one thing, Yeats could not affirm the premise of a tragic universe in which the action is concluded by a restoration of the moral order.54 If Purgatory contains a version of King Lear, a play to which its language and imagery constantly gesture, then Yeats’s re-writing takes away the original Shakespearean possibility for the final salvation of the ‘silly old man’ 55who is responsible for disturbing the social and the natural order. With only the unrepentant infanticide left on the stage, Purgatory aborts the promise of the restoration of that order through the natural transference of worldly affairs to a younger generation—Edgar, Malcolm, Fortinbras—whose statements of intended new departures typically mark the conclusions of even the bloodiest of Shakespeare’s tragedies. The fact that the play ends with an echo not of any of these young successors, or even of the dying Lear, but of the banished Kent from Act 1 preparing for his non-departure only works to affirm this sense of the static or repetitive, rather than the transformative or visionary or even the redemptive, all epithets that have at one time or another been appended to Lear in the moments leading up to his death.

  • 56 Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (London: Faber & Faber, 1968), 58.
  • 57 On Shakespeare’s heroes and their beliefs in the afterlife, see Stephen Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purga (...)
  • 58 Ure, Yeats the Playwright, 84.
  • 59 For this theme in Yeats, and its various possible sources, see Deirdre Toomey, ‘The Cold Heaven’, Y (...)

46Nor was Yeats inclined to see death as an ending. Tragedy, as Tom Stoppard’s outrageous Elizabethan tragedian (anachronistically adapting Oscar Wilde) defines it, is a genre in which ‘The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily’;56 but in Yeats’s last plays they do not ‘end’ at all. The idea of a purgatory in which the dead endlessly act out the transgressions of their lifetimes may be a distinct theological possibility for some of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes (Hamlet (I. v. 9–13; III. i. 66–88) and Macbeth (I. vii. 4–12) fear the repercussions of the actions of this life in the life to come);57 but it is not a concern for the dramatist, for whom the tragedy comes to an end after the death of the protagonist. The action of Purgatory, like that of The Death of Cuchulain (the one play Yeats completed after it) and poems like ‘Cuchulain Comforted’ and ‘The Cold Heaven’, on the other hand, is not bounded by the limits of mortal existence in the same way. In fact, it may be said that in these texts the tragedy only begins with the death of the hero. All of these are attempts to find what Ure calls an ‘intelligible representation of the life of the dead’, a problem that preoccupied Yeats since at least 1911.58 Many of Yeats’s greatest lyric and dramatic writings are tragic precisely because the soul is incapable of being released into the oblivion that Lear by the end craves, and is instead ‘sent | Out naked on the roads,… and stricken | By the injustice of the skies for punishment’ (‘The Cold Heaven’, VP 316).59 In failing to rise to the tragic crescendo of the endings of Shakespearean tragedies, therefore, Yeats was making a point both about the absence of a ‘moral order’, and the possibility of a cruel, repetitive afterlife of the soul. Both those points would be elaborated by post-War playwrights like Samuel Beckett, many of whose plays further exploited the dramatic potential of endless repetition that was first introduced in Purgatory.

47But there is perhaps one more dimension to the story of Yeats’s struggle with Shakespearean tragedy in this play. If Shakespeare, as Yeats told Dorothy Wellesley on his deathbed in January 1939, was no more than ‘a mass of magnificent fragments’ (LDW 194), then perhaps the writing of Purgatory should be seen not merely as a failed attempt to write a ‘Shakespearean tragedy in miniature’, a project whose success or failure can be measured in relation to an established Shakespearean yardstick. The very idea of miniaturization, however casually it is introduced by Ure at the end of a chapter, is essential. That process is not always the result of modesty or lack of ambition; it can also be the outcome of a crucial act of refinement. As an example of the latter, Purgatory may be read as Yeats’s heroic—or perhaps rather tragic—attempt to rehabilitate a heterogeneous mass of Shakespearean ‘fragments’ into a single ‘scene of tragic intensity’ (as he wrote to Edith Heald about his initial conception of the play [CL InteLex 7201]), which achieves the unity of vision and purpose that Yeats believed was lacking in Shakespeare. Tragic, that is, because the attempt to improve Shakespeare of course constitutes an act of immense hubris. The attempt is always doomed to failure, yet the struggle with the Shakespearean example is necessary in the establishment of a new tragic form fit for the twentieth century, and ultimately confirms Yeats as the leading proponent of the tragic stage since Shakespeare.

Notes

1 Note—Further information may have been gathered since this article was prepared for publication. If you would like to find out if any further information has been discovered that may help your own research, why not write to the author at stanleyvanderziel@gmail.com? Apart from anything else, feedback is always welcomed.

2 Michael McAteer, Yeats and European Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 176–79.

3 See for example an early study, Katharine J. Worth, ‘Yeats and the French Drama’, Modern Drama 8.4 (Winter 1965), 382–91 (esp. p. 390), and Anthony Roche’s recent The Irish Dramatic Revival 1899–1939 (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 157–60.

4 J. M. Synge, Collected Works, 4 vols, gen. ed. Robin Skelton (London: Oxford University Press, 1962–1968), iii, 71. Hereafter cited parenthetically as JMSCW.

5 John Pilling, Samuel Beckett (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976), 157.

6 James Joyce, Ulysses, ed. by Hans Walter Gabler (New York: Garland, 1984), 9.510–11.

7 See Graham Allen, Intertextuality (London: Routledge, 2000), 1 and passim.

8 Yeats to Dorothy Wellesley, 15 August 1938, CL InteLex 7290. It is perhaps indicative that a journal entry from October 1909 recording his response to seeing one of Shakespeare’s plays—‘I feel in Hamlet, as always in Shakespeare, that I am in the presence of a soul lingering on the storm-beaten threshold of sanctity’ (Mem 233)—should pre-empt by some thirty years the quasi-religious terms of this well-known later explanation of the significance of Purgatory as a play about ‘this world and the next’.

9 Quoted in YL 169, item no. 1261. The National Library of Ireland’s ‘Guide for Readers’ to the Yeats Collection lists Masefield’s letter among items ‘listed in the O’Shea Catalog but not received with the Yeats Library’, http://www.nli.ie/pdfs/msslists/YeatsLibrarylistforpublic.pdf

10 E&I 96–110. That early essay remains influential—so much so, in fact, that much recent scholarship on Yeats’s Shakespeare has concentrated on applying its contents to Yeats’s own dramatic outputs of the early 1900s, notably the first instalment of his own historical ‘cycle’ of Cuchulain plays, On Baile’s Strand. See for example Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (London: Cape, 1995), 268–85; Neil Corcoran, Shakespeare and the Modern Poet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 27–40; and Denis Donoghue, ‘Yeats’s Shakespeare’, Irish Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 113–36.

11 On Yeats in the context of early twentieth-century cultural-nationalist ‘appropriations’ of Shakespeare, see for example Adam Putz, The Celtic Revival in Shakespeare’s Wake: Appropriation and Cultural Politics in Ireland 1867–1922 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

12 Variations on that thought had been part of Yeats’s arsenal from early on in his career. It was probably first articulated in the first of his three London lectures on the theatre in March 1910 (YT 21).

13 It is well known that Yeats was an admirer of Ulysses when it was first published. See for example Life 2, esp. 260–61.

14 Synge borrowed readily from Shakespeare, and married the latter’s poetic-dramatic language to the linguistic realities of the Ireland of his time. Thus Maurya’s cry of anguish after losing the last of her sons at the end of his perfectly formed Greek tragedy, Riders to the Sea— ‘They’re all gone now’ (JMSCW iii, 23)—echoes not Sophocles, but King Lear’s reaction to the death of Cordelia: ‘I might have saved her; now she’ s gone for ever’(V. iii. 270). Similarly, as Declan Kiberd has pointed out, the same character’s inability to return her son Bartley’s blessing earlier in the play both reflects her indigenous pagan sensibility and echoes an arresting dramatic moment in Macbeth. See Kiberd, Synge and the Irish Language, 2nd ed. (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1993), 163.

15 t. s. Eliot, Poetry and Drama (London: Faber & Faber, 1951), 19–20.

16 See also Rupin W. Desai, Yeats’s Shakespeare (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1971), 212–13, 222. Desai’s chapter on Purgatory is the only other sustained reading of the play’s Shakespearean progeny to date.

17 John McGahern, Introduction to the 1999 edition of John Butler Yeats: Letters to His Son w. b. Yeats and Others 1869–1922, repr. in McGahern, Love of the World: Essays, ed. by Stanley van der Ziel (London: Faber & Faber, 2009), 243.

18 All references to Shakespeare’s plays are to The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works, gen. eds Richard Proudfoot, Ann Thompson and David Scott Kastan (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), unless otherwise indicated.

19 For a useful account of Shakespeare’s use of ‘equivocation’ in the language of Macbeth, see Frank Kermode, Shakespeare’s Language (London: Allen Lane, 2000), 201–16.

20 Desai, for example, reads the invocations of both the ‘ruined house’ and the ‘bare tree’ in Purgatory’s opening lines as allusions to certain speeches in acts 4 and 5, respectively, of Timon of Athens. See Desai, Yeats’s Shakespeare, 213–14.

21 a. s. Knowland, w. b. Yeats: Dramatist of Vision (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1983), 89. See also Helen Vendler, Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 72, 133; and Corcoran, Shakespeare and the Modern Poet, 41–42.

22 Manuscript of the First Verse Draft (MS 8772#2), in Sandra F. Siegel ed., Purgatory: Manuscript Materials Including the Author’s Final Text, by w. b. Yeats (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986), 80–81.

23 Johnston’s King Lear was first performed at the Abbey as early as November 1928, but since Yeats was in Rapallo at that time he only saw its revival two years later (see Mem 275; CL InteLex 5398). For production details of plays performed at the Abbey I rely on the Abbey archives’ online resource: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/archives/

24 Patrick Lonergan, ‘“Old fools are babes again”: Shakespeare at the Abbey Theatre’, programme note for King Lear, dir. Selina Cartmell (Abbey Theatre, Dublin, 6 February–23 March 2013), 10.

25 ‘rather bald’ was George Yeats’s description, in a letter to the director, of the type of staging Yeats wanted—‘To the best of my belief’ —for Purgatory. George Yeats, letter to Hugh Hunt, 26 July 1938, CL InteLex 7281.

26 See the various letters from 1938 between w. b. Yeats, George Yeats and Hugh Hunt. See also Life 2 627.

27 See Donald T. Torchiana’s discussion of the allegorical timeline of Purgatory in his w. b. Yeats and Georgian Ireland, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1992), 358–61.

28 John Unterecker, ‘The Shaping Force in Yeats’s Plays’, Modern Drama 7.3 (Autumn 1964), 345–56 (355); Richard Ellmann, Four Dubliners (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987), 50.

29 Jacqueline Genet, ‘Yeats’s Purgatory: A Re-Assessment’, Irish University Review 21.2 (Autumn/Winter 1991), 229–44 (243).

30 Hamlet, ed. by t. j. b. Spencer (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996), V.ii.88, and p. 345n. Both the ‘good’ second Quarto and the Folio refer to a ‘chough’ (or ‘chowgh’ in F), which can be both a chattering jackdaw and a variant spelling for a ‘chuff’ (a simple rustic, especially one with more money than sense). Most modern editors allow this double meaning. In his Arden edition, however, Harold Jenkins omits the pun by changing the spelling to ‘chuff’ (meaning a rustic but not a species of bird) in an effort to disambiguate the meaning of this obscure speech.

31 See for example David Wheatley, ‘“Nothing will come of nothing”: Zero-sum Games in Shakespeare’s King Lear and Beckett’s Endgame’, Shakespeare and the Irish Writer, ed. by Janet Clare and Stephen O’Neill (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2010), 166–78.

32 MS dated ‘Oxford. May 8.1938’, quoted in Warwick Gould, ‘“What is the explanation of it all?”: Yeats’ s “little poem about nothing”’, YA5 212–13. N. B. that following analysis of the MS, Gould suggests that the concluding full stop in the third line may not have been ‘intended as a punctuation mark’.

33 As in Hamlet III.ii.119. Deirdre Toomey, ‘“What is the explanation of it all?” Nothing and Something’, YA9 309–12 (311). Perhaps Ellmann was thinking of the same Elizabethan usage when he said that Yeats ‘could conceive of nothing as empty and also as pregnant’ (Four Dubliners 50). The bawdy sense of ‘nothing’ is of limited interest to a reading of Purgatory, whose nothings do not really lend themselves to that interpretation, and so it shall be pursued no further in this essay.

34 Although the phraseology may be derived from a story by Tolstoy, the title Where There Is Nothing refers to a philosophical system that may be found, not in Nietzsche (as George Mills Harper believed), but in Dante. It proposed that God is located in the empty space (i.e. the ‘nothing’) beyond the ninth and final of the celestial spheres that make up the universe. See Gould and Toomey’s explanatory notes in Myth 2005 329–30.

35 For an interesting reading of the dramatic importance of the joke about nothing at the end of The Herne’s Egg, see Richard Allen Cave, ed., w. b. Yeats: Selected Plays (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1997), 374n.

36 This is how Yeats described his original vision for a one-act play that would become Purgatory in a letter to Edith Shackleton Heald, 15 March 1938, CL InteLex 7201.

37 Desai, Yeats’s Shakespeare, 216.

38 Samuel Beckett, Watt [1953], ed. by C. J. Ackerley (London: Faber & Faber, 2009), 64.

39 The intergenerational quarrel about the management of funds plays out the postcolonial argument between Protestant patricians whose class had a vast hereditary experience of government, and representatives of the class newly elevated to political office after the revolution. The Boy articulates the way of acting and thinking often attributed to democratic post-revolutionary or postcolonial governments everywhere, full of ideals but lacking in the practical experience that would make for sensible decision-making, while the Old Man is the voice of reason and experience gained from centuries of colonial administration.

40 Jan Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary [1964], trans. Boleslaw Taborski, rev. ed. (London: Routledge, 1988), 143.

41 Frank O’Connor, My Father’s Son (1968; London: Pan, 1971), 152.

42 A fascist production at the Comédie Française in Paris in 1934 treated Coriolanus ‘as an all-out attack on democracy’, resulting in violent demonstrations outside the theatre, and in Germany the Nazis hailed the play as ‘a hymn to strong leadership’. In Stalin’s Soviet Union, meanwhile, it was cast as a Bolshevik treatise against a ‘contemptible, aristocratic, Western-style enemy of the people’. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, ed. by Michael Dobson and Stanley Wells (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 92.

43 O’Connor, My Father’s Son, 152. On Yeats and Coriolanus at the Abbey, see also Lauren Arrington, w. b. Yeats, The Abbey Theatre, Censorship and the Irish State: Adding the Half-pence to the Pence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 168–70.

44 On Yeats’s Burkean political thought, and its overlaps with the fascism with which he briefly flirted earlier in the 1930s, see for example Grattan Freyer, w. b. Yeats and the Anti-Democratic Tradition (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1981); and Elizabeth Cullingford, Yeats, Ireland and Fascism (London: Macmillan, 1981).

45 The line ‘I will break your fingers’ (VPl 1047) was a very late additions to the text. It does not appear in any of the surviving manuscripts or typescripts prepared by Yeats; its earliest preserved appearance is in the ‘Longford Page Proofs’ (LPP1) that were sent to Yeats in the south of France. See Siegel, Purgatory, 196n and 220.

46 It is this ideological openness that had allowed French and German fascist productions as well as Soviet communist interpretations of Coriolanus earlier in the decade. Jan Kott proposed that Coriolanus’ long lack of popularity was due to its inherent political, moral and philosophical ambiguity (Shakespeare Our Contemporary, 142).

47 F. A. C. Wilson, w. b. Yeats and Tradition (London: Gollancz, 1958), 159.

48 Neither Wilson (W. B. Yeats, 159) nor Knowland (Dramatist of Vision, 236–37) actually cite Lear’s apology to Cordelia, but it is clear that this is the speech to which they allude. Desai (Yeats’s Shakespeare, 219–20) and Cave both identify this speech in particular as the original of the echo which Yeats ‘may well have intended deliberately’ (Cave, W. B. Yeats, Selected Plays, 379n).

49 Ibid.

50 John Masefield, William Shakespeare (London: Williams & Norgate, 1911), 163.

51 Manuscript of the First Verse Draft (MS 8772# 2), in Siegel, Purgatory, 104–5.

52 It is perhaps surprising that critics of Irish drama have not picked up on this echo. It is not unlikely, on the other hand, that members of the play’s early audience must have been struck, if only subconsciously, by the similarity between the two endings when Purgatory was revived on a double bill with The Playboy between 5 and 10 December 1938. This is especially likely given that the role of the father in both plays was played in that run by the same actor, Michael J. Dolan.

53 Peter Ure, Yeats the Playwright: A Commentary on Character and Design in the Major Plays (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963), 112.

54 On the restoration of the moral order that is a generic imperative of Shakespearean tragedy, see for example A. C. Bradley’s Shakespearean Tragedy (London: Macmillan, 1904), still in print today but already antiquated by the time Yeats came to write his final plays.

55 ‘A silly old man’ is the Boy’s indolent answer to his father’s question: ‘study that tree, | What is it like?’ (VPl 1041). His answer is clearly intended as a mockery of his father, the ‘silly old man’ who asked him a silly question; but the Boy’s terse description of what the tree reminds him of also gestures to the presence in Purgatory of King Lear in his self-confessed dotage—the ‘very foolish, fond old man’ of IV.vii.60.

56 Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (London: Faber & Faber, 1968), 58.

57 On Shakespeare’s heroes and their beliefs in the afterlife, see Stephen Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purgatory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

58 Ure, Yeats the Playwright, 84.

59 For this theme in Yeats, and its various possible sources, see Deirdre Toomey, ‘The Cold Heaven’, YA18 191–214.

Table des illustrations

Légende Plate 37. Abbey Theatre Programme for King Lear, 27 October 1930 and following nights. Yeats saw the first half on 27th and the second on 29th: see Mem 275. ‘E. W. Tocher’ is a professional pseudonym used by Denis Johnston, the Director. Image courtesy James Hardiman Library, NUI, Galway.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/5672/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 284k
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/5672/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 416k
Légende Plates 38-39. Set desings for Kings Lear, by Dorothy Travers Smith Images courtessy James Hardiman Library, NUI, Gatway.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/5672/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 350k

Auteur

Stanley van der Ziel lectures in British and Irish literature at Maynooth University. His work on modern and contemporary Irish literature has been published in various books and journals. He is the author of John McGahern and the Imagination of Tradition (2016), and the editor of two of McGahern’s works— Love of the World: Essays (2009) and The Rockingham Shoot and Other Dramatic Writings (2018), both published by Faber & Faber.

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